114 B. POLEVOI
that would be to his mother, who had lost her other sons
at the front and was waiting for him, her last son, to
return! Such were the thoughts that ran through his
mind as he lay amidst the sad, oppressive silence of the
ward, listening to the angry twang of the mattress springs
under Kukushkin's restless body, to the sighs of the silent
tankman, and to Stepan Ivanovich, bent almost double,
standing at the window, where he spent most of the day,
drumming his fingers on the window-pane.
"Amputate? No! Anything but that! Far better to
die___What a cold, frightful word: 'amputate'—sounds
like a dagger thrust. Amputate? Never! That must not
be!" thought Alexei. He dreamed of this frightful word
in the shape of a great steel spider, tearing at his flesh
with sharp, crooked claws.
For a week the inmates of number forty-two lived four
in the ward. But one day Klavdia Mikhailovna, looking
worried, came in accompanied by two orderlies, and told
them that they would have to squeeze up a little. Stepan
Ivanovich's bed was shifted right up to the window, to his
great delight. Kukushkin's bed was shifted into the corner
next to Stepan Ivanovich's, and in its place was put a
nice, low bed with a soft spring mattress.
Kukushkin flew into a fit of rage at this. His face
turned pale, he banged his fist on his bedside cupboard
and in a high, squeaky voice abused the nurse, the hospital
and even Vasily Vasilyevich, threatened to complain to
somebody or other, and let himself go to such an extent
that he nearly threw a mug at poor Klavdia Mikhailovna,
and would have done so had not Alexei, his gypsy eyes
flashing fiercely, pulled him up with a stern ejacula-
Just at that moment the fifth patient was brought in.
He must have been of great weight, for the stretcher
creaked and bent heavily in rhythm with the footsteps of
the stretcher-bearers. A round, clean-shaven head rolled
helplessly from side to side on the pillow. The broad,
bloated, waxen face seemed lifeless. The full, pale lips
bore a fixed expression of suffering.